In the end, these seem questions more of temperament than of argument. Mitchell Stephens speaks of the agonized struggle within the soul and the mind between belief and nonbelief. This struggle is a modern piety, but I wonder how many people actually experience it. The sight of an open sea strikes some as beautiful and others as scary, and the line between them seems no more a matter of principle than that between people who like oceans in the summer and those who prefer ponds. Some people of great sensibility and intelligence—Larkin, Auden, and Emily Dickinson, to name three—find intolerable the idea of open seas, of high windows letting in the light, and nothing beyond. If the leap to God is only a leap of the imagination, they still prefer the precarious footing. Others—Elizabeth Bishop, William Empson, and Wallace Stevens—find the scenario unthreatening, and recoil at the idea of a universe set up as a game of blood sacrifice and eternal torture, or even with the promise of eternal bliss not easily distinguishable from eternal boredom. They find a universe of matter, pleasure, and community-made morality the only kind of life possible, and the only kind worth living. The differences, first temperamental, then become theological.This is exactly where I always end up when I think about these things. Some people may struggle with faith, but more either believe or don't based on whether they prefer a universe with or without God.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Belief and Unbelief
Adam Gopnik, from an essay on atheism, faith, and science in the New Yorker: